Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The verdict: Looks great, sounds amazing, and loaded with adrenaline-fueled action. An excellent addition to the science fiction genre, fans will enjoy the knowing nods, and newbies will likely be blown away.

The rating: 7/10

So PCMR managed to attend my first ever premiere last night, at which there were even a few stars present, and paparazzi to boot! Well, there were a few shifty looking geezers with zoom lenses hanging around outside the IFI in Dublin, but their invasive lenses were more likely reserved for a glimpse of Cillian Murphy’s arrival than that of your favourite semi-anonymous internet movie critic. (Don't they know who you are!? – Ed). Danny Boyle was also there, along with the deceptively named science advisor for the movie, a certain Brian Cox.

Putting aside my initial disappointment at the lack of a red carpet, (Temple Bar not quite being Cannes after all - Ed) I gradually got excited about the prospect of this movie. Danny Boyle's second film since '28 Days Later', 'Sunshine' is a science-fiction epic three years in the making and written by the same geezer who wrote the aforementioned zombie-genre reboot - Alex Garland. As the hum of anticipation grew in the IFI lobby, I realised I was really looking forward to this one.

Danny Boyle has helmed two of my all-time favourite movies, namely 'Trainspotting' and '28 Days Later'. I was a student at the time Trainspotting was released, and so part of the film's target audience, but the finished film was undeniably a revelation, exhilarating, exciting and intelligent, while at the same time managing to have an appeal broad enough to drag bums into seats in cinemas. These traits seem to have become trademarks of Danny Boyle's recent career, and are really quite rare in mainstream big studio output. '28 Days Later' was a properly huge international success for Boyle however, and also launched Cillian Murphy’s now burgeoning movie career with a bang. Apart from these two, Boyle has delivered a few qualified successes ('Millions', 'The Beach') and also – cough – 'A Life Less Ordinary'.

Boyle's decision to delve into the science fiction genre with 'Sunshine' is not one he has taken lightly. In the Q&A session after the premiere (.. show-off - Ed), he referred to feeling like Stanley Kubrick was a real presence in his mind while making this movie, watching over Boyle’s shoulder as he agonised over the minutiae of production design. This influence should not be lost on the viewer as 'Sunshine' opens with a panoramic external view of a CGI spaceship, immediately evoking Kubrick’s monolithic star-fest.

As well as '2001', Boyle has also been heavily influenced by what he perceives as the two other biggest successes of the genre, namely Tarkovsky’s 'Solyaris' and 'Alien', with a dash of 'Das Boot' to, um, boot. This should give you a flavour of the kind of atmosphere to expect from Sunshine, dark, brooding, and claustrophobic, with an element of horror to add to the mix.

In fact, Sunshine resembles Alien more closely than 2001, in that it is an ensemble cast, with no obvious star to play the hero we all expect to be the last man standing. The template of the hopeless space mission to save the earth has been done to death before, of course, with many notable failures - or popcorn movies at best - ably demonstrating how not to do sci-fi. The two that spring most readily to my mind are the deplorable, life-threatening 'Sphere' – the only movie I have come close to walking out of in a cinema – and 'Event Horizon', which by contrast was really quite good, although it didn't entirely live up to its promise.

So Sunshine works from the boiler-plate of these movies, and attempts to salvage some originality from the confines of their collective legacy. I have to say, in PCMR's humble opinion, Boyle has managed to rise above the drek, and produce an original and entertaining science fiction movie with 'Sunshine.'

So to get the plot synopsis out of the way, it's 2057, and the crew of the aptly named 'Icarus' are travelling towards our now dying sun. Their mission is to reignite the fading star with their massive payload, namely a disc-shaped bomb the size of Manhattan. The earth is dying as a result of the sun's fatigue, so essentially the success of this mission will mean the crew are (drum roll please).... yep, they're saving the world.

The ensemble cast play well off each other, unsurprisingly since Boyle insisted they all live together for a fortnight before filming started. Chris Evans in particular is strong as Mace, the Alpha male of the crew. Also, Cliff Curtis, as the psych officer, gives a chillingly effective and ambiguous performance. Rose Byrne too is doe-eyed and innocent, and a perfect foil to Evans. Cillian Murphy is not playing to type here, as his character is quiet and something of an outsider to the main group, but as the chief physicist on board the Icarus, his expertise will ultimately determine whether the mission will succeed or fail.

The movie differs from, say, 'Armageddon' in that we are never given glimpses of anxious family members on Earth waiting for news of the crew. (Awww… let’s hope it’s at least a little like 'Lost in Space' though – Ed) The movie is set entirely inside and around the Icarus, and this claustrophobia adds to the realism of the proceedings on-screen. Like 'Alien', the pace is quietly relentless, starting quite slowly, but gradually building to a breathless, exhilarating climax.

The visual effects employed, a genuine technical headache for a sci-fi director to deal with, are distinctive and truly stunning in this movie. The sun has never looked like this on celluloid before, and the vivid yellows and oranges of our nearest star are contrasted with the blues and grays of Icarus' interior, the greens of the ship's Arboritum, and of course the darkness, both of space outside the ship, and also inside when the lights go out, but that’s another story…

The movie sounds fantastic, thanks to an atmospheric electronic soundtrack constructed by Underworld, bolstered by Orchestral contributions from John Murphy. The sound itself is remarkable too, and the crispness and power of the sound quality contributes to the more dramatic moments of the adrenaline-fueled third act.

There is an element of horror in the movie too, no doubt inspired by 'Alien', but although these parts are creepy and in parts a little gory, the horror never overtakes the action and ultimately adds to the mystical nature of the crew's mission, especially in the third act of the movie.

PCMR would recommend Sunshine as an action-packed visual treat of a cinematic experience, and although it won't be the best film you'll ever see, perhaps even the best film you see this year, it has enough quality, excitement and above all, unpatronising action and dialogue to keep even the most confirmed anti-sci-fi fan amused. If you're still unconvinced about the sci-fi element of Sunshine, perhaps cast your mind back to your impression of zombie movies before you saw '28 Days Later'…

Fans of science fiction will appreciate the homage paid to Stanley Kubrick, Tarkovsky and Ridley & Ripley, but Boyle manages to sprinkle enough originality into proceedings to make Sunshine a more than welcome addition to the genre. (Plus you get to do an impression of Noel Gallagher every time you say the title - Ed)

In short, it looks and sounds great, it's well scripted and well-acted and the plot builds towards a dramatic, if a little chaotic, climax. I'm reluctant to only recommend it to fans of science fiction, because it is a very good representation of some of the best elements of the genre. When a film has this much going for it, why deny yourself the experience? It won't be a waste of your time.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

Great review .. Even if I weren't already a huge fan of both Danny Boyle and good science fiction, I'd still give this one a chance .. Unfortunately, it's been pushed back in my little corner of the world, so I have no idea when I'll be able to see it

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